Friday, January 17, 2014

When did the failed city mindset emerge in DC?

Today's Post announced that "Most D.C. residents give public schools low ratings in poll" and published this interesting chart (below). This month, 38% of residents rated DC public schools as excellent or good, while 51% rated them not so good or poor. Since 1996, more residents have generally approved or at least decreased their disapproval of the DC public schools. However, look at May 1990 at the bottom of the chart:

In 1990, 24 years ago, fewer residents (36% then vs. 51% now) were negative about the DC public schools and an equal proportion of residents (38%) found the DC public schools excellent or good as now.

I theorize that sometime between 1990 and 1996 -- long after white flight, long after the 1968 riots, at some point after Marion Barry left office (and before he returned again) -- a new mindset arrived to DC. This narrative argued that the city was a failure, the city was in chaos, the city had been destroyed. This was a new narrative held by DC residents themselves (not by those who had left the city). Maybe it is similar to The Wire's worldview? When did this mindset arrive? Why did it arrive at this time? Why did it sink in? 


  1. Are citizens’ opinions of public schools a useful basis to theorize the arrival of a failed city mindset during 1990 – 1996? We’ve never liked the system very much. The link in the blog leads to another Washington Post city poll in 1993 that found that 72% of residents surveyed thought their neighborhoods were good or excellent places to live. That number rose to 78% in 1996 (currently 87%). How would you reconcile the rising level of apparent multi-neighborhood satisfaction with a supposed concurrent belief by the citizenry that the city was a failure and had been destroyed?

    The crack cocaine tragedy that began in the late ‘80’s was truly horrible (role model: Mayor Barry). Despite real despair over the human toll of the drug trade, though, I don’t recall experiencing what this blog characterizes as a failed city mindset by residents, certainly not a mindset that developed in any kind of relationship to Barry’s absence from government. We might have felt failed by leadership, but the city wasn’t a failure. Overall it was viable, livable, worthy of hopes and plans for the future. Sandy


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